Tong Louie was born in 1914 in Vancouver, BC, to an immigrant Chinese family that owned a wholesale food business. After graduation from Britannia High School he entered UBC in 1933. According to E G Perrault in his book Tong: the Story of Tong Louie, Vancouver’s Quiet Titan, the choice of the Faculty of Agriculture was made on the advice of Arthur Laing. In 1931 there were only 27 Chinese students at UBC, 10 of them women. Agriculture was recommended because it would lead to a profession with no racial bias, unlike law, medicine, teaching in public schools and working for the government etc., which at that time were not open to Chinese. Arthur Laing helped him to settle in at UBC, into a class of 37 students.
According to E G Perrault, Mr Louie valued greatly the education he received at UBC and liked the “no-nonsense approach of the Faculty. In particular he respected Dr Laird, then Head of Agronomy, who combined all necessary theory with sound, practical advice. His attitude was that you couldn’t cultivate a cabbage with a slide rule alone, and we got the message”. No doubt his admiration for Dr Laird led to Tong Louie’s choice of Soil Science as his major. He played basketball and took part in track and soccer when time permitted from studies and helping out in the family grocery supply business.
He graduated in 1938, his studies having been interrupted by the death of his father and his increasing responsibilities in the family business. Following graduation he was offered a position with a fertilizer company, since qualified technical staff being required at that time for an expanding agriculture industry in the province. However, he turned it down in view of his expanding role as a partner in the family business. He had taken courses on food technology at UBC and put his knowledge to good use in developing and introducing new food products.
In 1990 Tong Louie was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by UBC for his outstanding achievements in business and community service. His citation included the following: “named Entrepreneur of the Year in 1988, Tong Louie was described as the ultimate human being, an erudite broker of goodwill, with tremendous warmth and unwavering loyalty. His involvement with his community is boundless and his contribution to its welfare exemplary. A native of Vancouver and a graduate of this university, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture in 1938. As a young boy, he had taken to heart the virtues of hard work through service in his father’s growing grocery supply business – H.Y. Louie Co. built from a few hectares in 1899. Louie Sr. began life in Vancouver as a farm worker three years before. Under Tong Louie’s guidance, that company has progressively expanded, first taking on IGA’s 47 BC stores by 1965, then buying nine large supermarkets from Dominion Stores in 1968, and finally buying the London Drug chain of stores. He is director and vice-chairman of IGA Canada Ltd., Chairman and Director of MTC Electronic Technologies Co., Director of Western Forest Products Ltd. and retired director of the Royal Bank of Canada. An extraordinary man, he has served on the boards of directors for The United Way, St Paul’s Hospital, the Vancouver Symphony, the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Gardens, the Canadian Diabetes Association, and the BC Heart Foundation. Mr. Louie is the first Canadian to be awarded the Golden Heart Community Achievement Award from the Variety Club. It is a sign of his character that he finds the well-deserved accolades and glowing praise somewhat embarrassing. He has said he does these things because they are right and he is in the fortunate position where he can help out. Mr. Chancellor, I ask you to honour the dedication of this humble man by conferring the degree Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, upon TONG LOUIE.”
In addition to the above, Dr Louie received many other awards and honours, including the YMCA of Greater Vancouver Outstanding Volunteer Leader Award (1988), Order of Canada (1989), the Food Industry Association of Canada Knight of the Golden Pencil Award (1989), Order of British Columbia (1991, Brotherhood Interfaith Society Man of the Year Award (1992). He was also named BC Entrepreneur of the Year for a second time. He was former head of the Vancouver Board of Trade and the Business Council of BC and served on many corporate boards. He served on UBC’ s Board of Governors from 1990 to 1996 and chaired the Properties Committee.
Dr Louie was also well-known for his generous support of many of the city’s education, health and cultural institutions. He gave UBC a major gift during the World of Opportunity Campaign to create the Tong Louie Chair in Pharmacy Administration. He also helped to establish the London Drugs Scholarship Endowment at UBC. A major benefactor to local universities and charitable organizations, he helped build the Geraldine and Tong Louie Human Performance Centre at the SFU Harbour Centre and the Dr Tong Louie Living Laboratory, a joint project of the SFU Gerontology Research Centre and the BCIT Technology Centre. Among the other organizations benefiting from his support were the Vancouver Public Library and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
He was no less active as a volunteer. He was appointed to senior positions on many boards and foundations over the years, including terms as Honorary Chairman of the St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation, Director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Honorary Director of Crime Stoppers and as a member of the Salvation Army Campaign committee. He was a trustee of St. Paul’s Hospital, a member of its finance committee and Honorary Campaign Chairman of St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation. He was a director of the Pacific Otolaryngology Foundation and the BC and Yukon Heart Foundation.
At his passing in 1998, it was pointed out that our country was built by men and women who were willing to work hard, take unusual risks, and push beyond commonly accepted limits. Such a man was Tong Louie, who excelled both as a businessman and as a philanthropist. The Faculty of Agricultural Sciences is proud to have help shape the career of one of its most successful alumni, who had made outstanding contributions to the community, British Columbia and Canada. In spite of his achievments it was said that Tong Louie maintained a down-to-earth attitude toward himself and his work throughout his life. His sense of humour was never far from the surface, and he had a reputation for treating his many employees as part of one big family. He often recalled his father’s words, and lived by them: “When pursuing prosperity, you must follow the rules of heaven. Don’t be afraid to be kind and charitable.”
Dr Louie was predeceased by his wife Geraldine.
In 2008 Dr Louie received, posthumously, one of the nine LFS Centenary Awards which recognized the outstanding achievements of UBC alumni. His son Brandt received the award on his behalf.
R Blair and C R Nichols 2003: based on UBC archives and E G Perrault ; Tong: the Story of Tong Louie, Vancouver’s Quiet Titan, Harbour Pub. Co. 2002.